Write drunk; edit sober. Ernest Hemingway
Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Would The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo be the success it was by any other name? What if had been called Ah those Crazy Swedes, or A Winter in Hell? How about The DaVinci Code? What if had been called Beware of Albinos or The Professor and the Pope? Of course not. The actual titles have a cachet that sparkles. The covers didn’t hurt but that’s another post.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wanted to call The Great Gatsby, one of the following: Under the Red White And Blue or Trimalchio’s Banquet, Among the Ash Heaps, The High-Bouncing Lover, or Incident at West Egg, among others. Finally Zelda and Max Perkins, his editor, persuaded him of the ultimate title.
Sometimes it seems that marketing is all. It’s not of course. There has to be a great book under that superb title just like there has to be a great book under a pretty title and cover.
My first novel is called Tell Me When It Hurts. It’s about healing and second chances but I was shocked to find that casual perusers thought it was non-fiction and about divorce. (I’m a divorce lawyer). Yes, that would make a good title for a divorce how-to book, but it’s a novel. The title was intended to reference the different capacities that we all have to deal with life pain and the need at some point to say “enough!”
My second novel had a working title The Things That Stick which was changed to The Rage of Plum Blossoms. Editors in the know opined that The Things that Stick does not evoke a picture. I changed it to The Rage of Plum Blossoms to evoke a picture. It has done nicely under that title.
The point is that titles are important. Titles attract. The inside needs to be good but first someone has to pick it up. Hemingway often got his titles from the Bible. Aaron Hotchner came up posthumously of A Moveable Feast. So take a look at my ridiculous alternate titles.
Here are my alternate titles for Hem’s big four:
The Sun Also Rises:
My Paris Friends
Jake and the Missing Part
The Girl with the Unfortunate Matador
Me and the Guys
For Whom the Bell Tolls:
Death in Spain
Robert and the Magnificent Bridge
A Bridge too far (Oops, taken)
Too Little Too Late
Love is All There is
The Old Man and the Sea:
The Fish is Gone
What’s for Dinner?
Me and My big Fish: Not
A Funny Thing Happened on my way back to the Dock
A Farewell to Arms:
The Girl with the Nurse’s Uniform
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
Catherine and the Rain
Say it isn’t so
Life’s a bitch and then you die
Okay, my titles are silly but it just goes to show that it’s not easy to find a title that is fresh, compelling, has gravitas commensurate with the subject matter and that seizes your interest before you crack a page. I still want to rethink the title of my first book.
So tell me your favorite alternate titles? They’ve got to be better than mine.
Wilde titles – Oscar would be proud!
Yes he would, Timothy! Take care and stay well. Best, Christine
Hemingway never said (and never would have said), “Write drunk; edit sober.”
That line comes from Peter DeVries’s 1964 novel, REUBEN, REUBEN, and is spoken by Gowan McGland, the poet-anti-hero (modeled on Dylan Thomas).
True, outsider art! he was sober when writing. Thank you for commenting. Best, Christine